Thursday, December 2, 2010

Heat-Cavs Proves Drama Trumps Competition

December 2, 2010

Forget about the records these teams have or how good or bad they've been playing lately. What matters in the Miami Heat versus Cleveland Cavaliers game is one thing: Drama.

Fans in Cleveland could care less that their team is 7-10 entering Thursday's game or the fact that they've lost five of their last seven games. All they care about is the return of LeBron James to his former team's arena for a game that will go down in sports history. But not because of its competitive implications; neither team's playoff hopes will be significantly improved or worsened as a result of the game. It's because of the game's emotionally-charged storyline.

History Proves It

The match-up is just one of many examples proving that drama trumps competition in sports. Just look back to recent examples of this phenomena:

October 24th, 2010: Brett Favre, with the Minnesota Vikings, plays against his former team in Green Bay on a Sunday Night Football special. The game drew 25.7 million television viewers and marked the highest rated game on SNF ever. Before that game ever took place, the Vikings had a miserable 1-4 record and had greatly lowered their shot at the playoffs already.

Did that matter to the fans? Nope. It was the drama that drew them in.

December 25, 2004: Shaquille O'Neal goes back to Los Angeles to face the Lakers as a member of the Miami Heat, marking the beginning of the Shaq-Kobe rivalry. That game too broke television rating records as it was the highest viewed regular season NBA game since 1998. While both teams were competitive, the Lakers had a slightly-above-average 14-12 record whereas the Heat stood at a much better 22-7. In essence, Miami was a superior team than L.A.

Did that matter to the fans? Nope. It was the drama that drew them in.

Putting it in Context

To ultimately prove this point we can look at a theoretical scenario that truly puts the Heat-Cavs hype in context. Picture this: LeBron James comes down with a sudden ailment or somehow seriously injures himself, which knocks him out of the game before tip-off. Let's say it's so bad that he stays in the locker room and doesn't even touch the court or sit on the bench.

Where will the excitement of the game come from then? Simply put, there won't be any.

Cavaliers fans amped up about expressing their deep disdain for LeBron will be forced to keep their anger bottled up, deflating their outlook of the game. No longer will the idea of revenge be present for the fans because the one they sought revenge against is nowhere to be seen.

At that point, the match-up itself will have declined to the status of "just another game." What you're left with is two teams playing in their 18th (Cavaliers) and 20th (Heat) games of a lengthy 82-game season. Nothing worth hyping up.

Interesting Thought to Consider

It's pretty interesting to see how sports are just an extension of the entertainment industry, firmly planted in the business of "putting on a show" for the fans. That is, audiences pour in to watch the spectacles of sports the same way they do for a movie, TV series or theatrical play.

So, if fans treat sports like product they consume (e.g. they don't attend unless they are satisfied with the team/organization), then why cant the athletes treat sports like a business (e.g. they can leave when they feel dissatisfied with their team) without being outrageously criticized?

After all, if they go out there, do their job in entertaining the fans and succeed at it - just like LeBron did for seven seasons in Cleveland - then it shouldn't matter if he/she decides to move to a more preferable situation.

Last time I checked, athletes played the game because they loved the sport, not necessarily because they loved the fans. Connections with the fans are a byproduct of the commercialization of the game. In simpler terms, your feelings toward an athlete are as superficial as your feelings toward a rock star. It just so happens this rock star plays in an arena in the town you live in for extended periods of time through the year.

Funny thing is I've never seen fans burn the album covers of their once-favorite artist after that star made an unpopular decision on national television. That would be silly.

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